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Why Nutrition is Important for Dancers

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

Let me start off by saying that nutrition is important for everyone. Literally, everyone. So by nature of that statement, nutrition is important for dancers. Thank you everyone, goodnight! Okay, there's a little bit more to it. We all have to eat every single day in order to function as humans: we need fuel to think thoughts, move our bodies, carry out tasks and of course, dance!


While any food will fill our bellies, there are some foods that work as better fuel than others. This is why yes, it's important to eat anything at all and you're already doing great if you're eating food (yay!), but it's also very valuable to understand and implement some basic concepts of nutrition if you're looking to improve athletic performance.


1. You need to eat enough calories


There's a whole lot to unpack when it comes to the ways we think/talk about food and bodies in the dance world (a topic for another time), but our unhealthy ideals about calorie consumption likely come from some of the following:

  • Dancers are typed and often judged based on their appearances when it comes to booking jobs, leading to placing a greater importance on image.

  • Antiquated ideals of what a "dancer's body" looks like still run rampant today.

  • Perfectionism is a common struggle with dancers and this can affect one's relationship with food and body image.

While dancers can both overestimate and underestimate the amount of food they need to eat, under eating is arguably of greater concern because of the physical demands dancers (and any athletes) place on their bodies. Under eating can have the following negative effects for athletes:

  • Increased risk of injury

  • Increased risk for nutrient deficiencies

  • Decreased energy

  • Decreased athletic performance

  • Reduced ability to repair and strengthen muscles

  • Decreased immune function

Knowing how much to eat can be challenging: Especially if habits of under eating are linked to disordered eating or other mental health struggles. While I would recommend working with a nutritionist to determine your own individual needs, the best advice I can give for you to implement on your own is to learn to listen to your body. Never ignore your hunger cues!


2. Nutrition helps a dancer's body recover


Knowing what kinds of foods to eat and when can be a game changer when it comes to nutrition for athletes. One common thing people tend to miss in their post workout meal is actually getting enough carbohydrates. The internet is famous for proclaiming the importance of post workout protein, but carbohydrates are just as important for recovery.


Aim for a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein (in grams). What does that look like? For the sake of easy numbers, let's say you have a serving of chicken breast that has about 30g of protein, you would want to have a serving of white rice with about 90g of carbohydrates.


Calorie and macronutrient counting can be mentally unhealthy for a lot of people and can take the joy out of eating. You don't have to be exact and can instead use visuals to ensure you're getting enough nutrients. For example: rice covers 2/3 of your plate while chicken covers 1/3. Again, you'll know what works best for your body based on how you feel: be patient, and listen!


(Disclaimer: no, you do not only need to eat chicken and rice as an athlete - these are just easy foods to use as examples!)


3. Nutrition can improve athletic performance


What you eat before a workout, after a workout, on rest days, etc. all has an impact on athletic performance. Recovering better today means you can perform better tomorrow. Knowing what nutrients to prioritize before a workout can help you have more energy to perform.


To clarify, the point I'm trying to drive home is that it's important that your overall diet gives you the nourishment that you need, NOT that you need to eat "perfectly"all the time in order to perform well. It's important to note that this takes TIME.


Here are some key ways nutrition can be used to improve athletic performance:

  • Ideal macronutrient ratios can help optimize athletic performance and recovery

  • Adequate nutrition is important for improving and maintaining muscle strength

  • Diet can be used to promote cardiovascular health

  • Antioxidants in food and supplements can help mitigate exercise induced oxidative stress

4. It's important for dancers to develop a healthy relationship with food


Through learning about nutrition, one thing should be clear: it's not about being perfect! My hope is that the more dancers learn about nutrition, the more freedom they feel when it comes to food.


This means understanding that there is just as much room for pasta and an Aperol spritz on a Saturday as there is for kale and tempeh on a Wednesday. Your body is super strong and super smart. Yes, it needs fuel to perform, but there's also plenty of room in an athlete's life to eat for other reasons like enjoyment, celebration or socialization.

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